Scenes From The End

First of all as I sidenote, I am going to gripe at all of these people that on a daily basis reference my blog to me in spoken word, and yet they fail to comment. This is what comments are for, guys!!


This is mainly going to be a photo montage from my last day at Madrone Ranch Stables. Enjoy.


(L-R: Nitro, Trooper, Goober, Ben)
It was always a constant battle of keeping enough grass for the horses in the limited turnout we have. The erosion from the rains fell near the gates of the three fields, and you can see that in the small drain there isn't much grass at all. We plant winter rye and fertilize but...there are just so many horses. Plus, we have recently been attacked by yellow starthistle, which evidently is a neurological toxin to the horses and they're all breaking out in hives, limiting our turnout even more. But: The horses were never happier than when they were outside.
You're My Hero

Admittedly, Hero was always my "pet," the cutest and the most intelligent 12.2 hands of pony money can by. Hero was not given his name, he earned it. He can go around a course at National Pony Finals and then tote a six year old across crossrails and still look good doing it. Despite his Napoleon complex, Hero understood what some horses never learn: if you do your job well, they stop bothering you. Hero will always be "the pony I never got" that I finally did.
The Hams

Some of these guys could never fail to make me chuckle, such as the Mason-Goober dynamic. Pictured is Mason, a sweet, gentle soul who likes to get into wars across his fenceline with Goober, a mouthy, giant goober of a horse. Sometimes I would look out into the runs and see the two playing tug-of-war with a broom or a piece of rope that Goober had dragged with his extremely talented lips away from the cross ties. Mason was always curious, all the time, and his nose led the way in every adventure.
The Bachelors

(L-R: Knickey, Bix, Petey)
Led by Bix, the ultimate hound-dog, you could not be stabled next to Bix and not immediately spend your days staring longingly at the mares in the field. I call Bix "Saint Bix" because of his incredible tempermant and tolerant personality. However, he has an eye for the ladies, and spends his time scoping out the nearest mare, Ovation, who lives at the end of the row. When I took this picture, they were all gazing out at Espy and Mardi, two pony mares. I called their names to get their attention, and to me they look like little boys caught with their hands in the cookie jar. They look downright guilty. Who, me?
The Great White

I call our 8 horse trailer "The Great White" because we called our old 6 horse that looked like a giant white whale (it was a lot taller and wider and stouter) "Moby." This is a 1987 Lightline Sundowner (aluminum) that I bargained down to a steal of a price from the person selling it. It used to be navy blue and you could hardly see the aluminum. I never realized just how big this mammoth thing was until I tried to take a picture of the whole rig today. It looks almost half the size of the barn! No wonder it hurt my back. It was a great trailer though. They don't make them like that anymore. As a note, the new manager Beverly is inside the tack room but you can't see her.

(L-R: Peppy, Caroline)
I have learned so much over the last four years. One of the lessons that I learned was that I enjoy teaching. Sometimes it's frustrating and sometimes it's rewarding but mainly it is just a fascinating experiment in rider-horse relationships. Peppy is the horse equivalent of Tippy, the barn dog. He has been so beat-down and trained so much that he is almost lacking in a personality. Somewhere behind is bug-eyes there is a little spirit of a horse that knows that when a child tips forward and loses her balance, he needs to stop and stand still. Peppy has taken meticulous care of his tiny riders and has done nothing but work hard for me this entire time. I'll miss his flop-ears and my favorite trick to show the kids at the end of the lesson--how Peppy would "cut" me, follow me step by step wherever I went in the arena, turn on a dime when I turned, and stop right next to me when I stopped. Peppy thought we were partners and most times, we were.
Employee of the Year

When we first arrived at Madrone Ranch, the barn had not been completely built. So we stabled a few horses at Rusty's adjacent barn at his home, and we would ride there in his small arena. Some days, Kelly and I would ride the horses through the adjoining trails to ride them in the larger arena once we had put up jumps in it. Rusty's dog Tippy would always come along with us, trotting ahead and occasionally chasing the odd rabbit or deer. Then, one day many years ago, we finally were able to move horses into the barn. Rather than trailer them over, we rode them to the ring and then put them away in the barn. Tippy followed us over to the barn as usual that day, but that night when we left the 4 horses we originally started off with in their new stalls, happily munching on hay, Tippy stayed behind. Tippy never went back to Rusty's house again. For a while, he tried to drive her over there and feed her steaks and scraps and try to bribe her. She would always run back. Then he tried not feeding her anything so that she would have to return to his house. She wouldn't eat for days. Tippy never went back to Rusty's. She lived with me when I lived at the barn and I remember how she didn't know what carpet was. She tried to dig it into a hole like dirt during the winter. I would put towels down but that just scared her. Tippy worked all day--I used to joke she was the best employee we had. She would herd the horses back to the gate, barking and grabbing at their tails with her teeth. She loved to bite at water coming out of the hose and would run in circles around the outside edge of the arena when I would teach my lessons. Tippy has an insatiable desire to please and to work. I'll miss her greeting me at my car every morning.
¿Cómo Podía La Vida Ser Mala?

(Jesus Castillo aka Chuy)
Chuy had a favorite saying. I remember the first time he told it to me, when I had dragged him over to Rusty's house to help me get a horse trailer and take a horse to the vet. He said this, of course, in Spanish, but it was probably the most consecutive words I have ever heard him say. It went something like this...
¿Tengo una mujer agradable al lado de mí, en un coche agradable,
con un acoplado agradable y un interior agradable del caballo -- cómo podría
la vida ser mala?
The english translation of that is: I've got a nice woman next to me, in a nice car, with a nice trailer and a nice horse inside--how could life be bad?)
It didn't matter to Chuy that he didn't own the truck or trailer,
or the horse, that I was his boss, that he had to clean stalls every day. He
was in that moment able to find happiness and point it out to me. Chuy showed me how to be greatful and appreciate those things which sometimes go unnoticed.
In the time I've known Chuy, I've watched our relationship go full
circle. He used to drive me crazy when I was young and impatient and had a
chip on my shoulder. He wasn't always a saint--he'd wear his shirt unbuttoned all the way down to his belly button, he'd show up drunk and hung over and he was always making rude grunting comments about how terrible life was. Then, at some point, he left and I grew up. When he came back, I realized how fond I was of Chuy. He was an open book who spoke his mind and I of all people could appreciate that. He suddenly was friendly and helpful and I could ask him to button up his shirt and he wouldn't just storm off. I had learned not only how to manage Chuy, but my own emotions as well.
Today when I took the above picture, he had come into the office to say goodbye. I was sitting there talking with him and one of the other
guys and I saw him just absentmindedly button up the top button on his shirt. It was like this sudden disbelief that I had finally gotten him to respect himself and be proud of what he was doing. He wasn't buttoning up his shirt because I had told him to but because he finally takes pride in his work and understands the
honor and importance.
I'll miss Chuy the most. I'll miss the fact that I can finally understand more or less most of what he says, and that I can tell jokes with him and laugh at things that not everyone can find humor in. I'll miss having Chuy
around as a true friend.

Give to Wendy Davis!

Best. Text. Message. Ever.
Bloggers from all over the United States are joining together today to raise money for Wendy Davis's campaign for Texas Governor. While I'm (sadly) not writing as often as I used to, my resolve to see an amazing, qualified woman like Wendy run our state is stronger than ever.

If you have a minute & can spare $5 or $50, please consider donating to Wendy Davis by clicking the thermometer below. Also, feel free to share this post on Facebook and Twitter (don't forget to use the hashtag #GiveToWendy!). Even if you are unable to donate financially, spreading the word online is a donation of its own.


Can Romney Bring Sexy Back?

On Friday, I was on KVUE news along with James Henson and Matt Mackowiak talking about Mitt Romney's impending vice presidential pick.

...Are you still awake?

Is there anyone more milquetoast than Mitt Romney? When the reporter asked if I'd be interested in giving my opinion on Romney potentially picking a woman for his veep, I honestly almost said no. I consider Romney a huge, wealthy, well-Botoxed non-issue. Let's face it: he's not as politically threatening to Obama as Obama is to himself. If you're considering Romney, then you were never and would never consider voting for Obama. The question is: can the GOP get enough people who happen to be Christian conservatives to go out and vote for the old Mormon guy? The Republican Party would have been better off just nominating a person whose last name is Reagan to the top of their ticket.

Nevertheless, we're humans and therefore we find ourselves once again in a frenzy over this Presidential election. You can expect the frenzy to uptick slightly if a woman gets picked as Romney's veep, just like they did when John McCain brought sexy back.

You can also expect that whichever woman is chosen will only slightly increase the numbers in which conservatives will drag themselves begrudgingly -- but with the power of the Lord's spirit! -- to the polls in November. When voting for the lesser of two supposed evils, people generally don't spend too much time deliberating over gender.

From the clip: "Mitt Romney choosing a vice presidential candidate that's a female is kind of like sending 'I'm sorry' flowers to women of America, and I think they're going to see right through it," said Democratic activist and blogger Rachel Farris.


Less than 2% of Texans have cast their ballots so far. The people who make laws are being selected by a very small few. Please get out and vote today. You can find your voting location here. And if you're voting in Travis County, please vote for Charlie Baird for District Attorney.


The Baby

My mom, with a new baby.
Editor's Note: I originally wrote this as a spoken word piece for Austin's Listen to Your Mother, an event which invites local writers to talk about what they've learned from their mothers. While I didn't make it through the second round of auditions, I decided my mom might still enjoy reading it. Happy Mother's Day, mama. I didn't buy you any more things...or tofu. I love you.

“She’s my baby.”

That’s what my mom would say from the time I was a toddler, sucking my left thumb into the shape of a pancake, to when I was thirteen and wearing hot pink blush left over from a Bobbi Brown makeover -- a splurge my mother surprised me with for my fourteenth birthday. To this day, I can be walking into my mother’s office, wearing my best work blazer and J. Crew ballet flats, gazing down her office hallways with twenty eight years of hard-earned wisdom, and my mom will grab me by the elbow, drag me down the hall and say to her coworker, “You remember Rachel - she’s my baby.”

It’s not easy being the baby. My older sister was never qualified that way. But why would she? Everything about my sister evokes her status as the first child. She got the best names - Grace Elizabeth. They are special names, names whose roots run deep into both sides of our family, as if my mother - also named Elizabeth - thought there would never be another daughter to come along so she used them all up at once, like wishes from a genie bottle.

My sister’s life has always been a gentle breeze of prosperity and advancement. She shared a passion for painting with my mom, something I found to be tedious and difficult to do well, particularly when in the same room as the two of them. They were readers; I was a writer. They loved the bright lights and culture of the city; I loved the quiet calm of the country. My sister was agreeable and, I’m told, I wasn't.

But it could never be said that my mom played favorites. While she resists the classification, she was not exactly the type to dote over her children. My sister and I found her greatest failing as a mother was to not have commissioned enough professional photographs of our family. Our cousins would regularly send photos of their family members stacked like measuring cups on craggy coastal hillsides. We were lucky to send out a Christmas card every other year. But despite her lack of family spirit, my mom was the sort of person you would want to have at your side in times of crisis, like at a hospital or in a natural disaster. She asks questions that other people don’t think to ask or wouldn’t want to. She makes things happen. She imposes order.

I used to wonder if the two extra years my sister had early on with my mom were what made her so much better than me. I’d imagine the two of them lounging around, my mom peering down the bridge of her over-sized, eighties eyeglasses at my sister, reading her stories from The New Yorker and dressing her in sparkling new cotton dresses. My dad would come home from work and they would all eat spaghetti. There was no one to dispute or disturb the three them. There was simply them and my sister absorbed every minute of it all.

Until I came along, screaming and bald until two years old! They gave me an unconventional name that seemed to be an afterthought. My mother, who said I looked like Frank Sinatra, still tells the story of how humid it was the April I -- her baby -- was born. “There were fleas popping all over you when I brought you home from the hospital!” My mom still proclaims.

The role of the baby, I decided early on, was the role of the outsider. I’ve been the observer, the watcher of family relations. Mostly I focused on my sister and my mother’s relationship, which seemed to be less turbulent than the one I had always had with my mom. I felt at times I was the anthropologist, logging dates and times in my vast array of journals filled with slights and insults, victories and defeats:

August 3, 1992 – Grace got headshots for aspiring acting career but still no pony has appeared in the backyard for me.
February 10, 1995 – Got pancakes and extra cuddles on a Saturday morning while Grace was at a UIL competition.
November 3, 1998 –  Mom’s spare ticket to Tosca was given to Grace. Grace got to wear mom’s pearls. Oh well, I hate the opera anyway. Dad made my favorite for dinner: fettuccine Alfredo.

Age didn’t really change the dynamic. When my sister graduated high school, she moved to Rhode Island for college. My mom would sit in my sister’s room every night watching her small, fourteen inch TV, previously reserved for my sister's obsession with episodes of Felicity and Dawson’s Creek. I didn’t understand why my mom would sit in Grace’s room instead of the living room, where there was a bigger television and more comfortable seating. It didn’t occur to me that perhaps my parents' thirty-four year marriage was falling apart, a disintegrating nest as their fledgling children pushed off on their own. I concluded the only explanation was that my mom missed her daughter, the first one, the best one. We fought a lot during those days.

My sister’s departure changed everything. When Grace came home, a celebrity was coming to visit. Our family trips to her college town were rife with disagreements and emotions, pulled by the odd dynamic of suddenly being visitors in my sister’s new life. And in the four years following my sister’s departure, as my parents separated, and subsequently divorced, I found myself uncomfortable with the realization that I was now the only daughter left. I was the only daughter there to help my mom decorate her new garage apartment, and comment on how lovely her toile bedding looked, and remark that yes, the kitchen was quite spacious for such a small living area, and sit on our old chairs in a new living room, and not ask why my dad was not there, and pretend to not notice that she didn’t seem sad at all. I wanted my old life back, the one where my sister played referee between me and my mom and my dad was the one who bought ice cream and declared "You're all beautiful!" when emotions ran high. That day still hasn’t come. In a way, I became my mom’s go-to daughter, the one whose boyfriends helped move heavy furniture for her and who could pick up her newspapers when she was out of town.

In January, my sister had her first child. I awoke to a text message photo of a round-faced, pink-lipped baby boy, squished between my sister and her husband, who had met in Rhode Island but since moved to Boston. My mom called me moments later. “Isn’t he cute?” I asked, as my mom announced she was getting on a plane and that she hoped the baby wouldn’t be born before she got there. I realized my mom had no idea he was already born. My sister had told me first.

If I still had my journals, I would have written that down.

I flew up to Boston later that day. On the plane, I wondered how my sister felt, having our mother so far away as she went into labor. I thought of the mornings we would beg my mom to cuddle with us in our beds, jumping on top of her as she would exclaim “Piles and piles of girly flesh!” We were so young but I don’t think I’d feel anything else if I were laying on a hospital bed today: the wanting, the warmth, the comfort of never having enough and having everything we needed all at once. “Just one more minute!” we’d cry as my mom would try to stand up and go back to reading the paper.  

When I arrived at the hospital that evening, my mom was already there, ordering my sister’s husband around and picking up the hospital room. “My baby,” my mom exclaimed as I walked through the door. Grace smiled at me, holding her own baby, and sighed “Isn’t he the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?”

I walked over to my sister’s bed and peered over her shoulder, staring down at the little lump of flesh she held cradled in her arms. I thought of everything he had yet to experience or know: his favorite color, where he’d go to college, which hand would he write with, whether he would have a Boston accent, or wish he was born in Texas, or have a sibling as stubborn as I was.

And then I thought of my sister, of the successes and achievements of her life, the failures and disappointments she would eventually face, the swaths of joy and happiness he would bring her, and the moments of confusion and sadness they might also share. Her journey into motherhood seemed like so much to take in, so much to embark upon without knowing the direction. Her bravery seemed worthy of all the firsts she had been awarded in life and it occurred to me that perhaps that was what being the first child was all about – building the confidence to always be the first.

Standing there next to the new mother and child, I felt no envy or wistfulness. And while I was not the youngest in the room that day, I was never more content to be the baby.

An Endorsement: On Problem Solving and Criminal Justice

Where I live, you see a lot of problems. The grip of poverty and poor decision-making permeates nearly everyone who lives across from me in the Santa Rita Courts. These problems are not what most struggle with. These are ugly problems. These are illegal problems. These are evil problems. There's a mother crying on your porch, cracked out on something at 2 AM, screaming at you that she hates her six year-old son whose cut on his lip suddenly seems like it's not from a broken glass after all. There's a man knocking on your door to ask for money, or a ride to the hospital. There's a dog catcher picking up a stray dog. There's an immigrant pushing a cart full of popsicles, trailed by a little boy who keeps yelling "Ice cream!" but the raspa man just keeps pushing because he knows the little boy has no money and it's hot and there are other houses to see. There's a clean-cut thirteen year-old saving up for a pair of Nikes who somehow manages to steal things, small things, from you, thinking you won't notice. There's a family whose lives have been disrupted due to drugs and abuse and who move further and further away from you, and whose children memorize your phone numbers because the numbers--or you--are the only things they have in their life that stay the same.

These are ugly problems to wake up to.

It's easy to think that they are not your own problems. Oh, that is the easiest of them all, as if these problems are some external force, some blustery wind that swept up the other people like trash blowing down the street. You watch them blow away and you thank any God you believe in that they are not your problems, and you sweep off your curb and go inside.

That is the easiest way. But it is not the right way.

You cry with the mother and you tell her to love. You hand a dollar and give a ride and expect nothing but a fleeting moment of gratitude. You waive down the raspa man and buy the little boy a popsicle. You find a way to forgive those who truly trespass against you and you encourage another way. You go, as far as you have to, to be a constant in an otherwise shattered life. Whenever you can, you answer the phone.

You can either be a part of the solution or you can watch the suffering. You can fortress yourself with the safety of judgement, and wipe your conscience clean of any reason to get involved, or you can open your door when someone is knocking. You become vulnerable, and you will be questioned for this. But you do what you can to solve the problems and you remember, at all times, that they are your own.

This is why I am supporting Charlie Baird for the Travis County District Attorney's race. Our criminal justice system has problems. Worse yet, our criminal justice system causes problems. We do not need someone simply to manage them; we need someone who wants to have a part in solving them. Charlie Baird will work to solve the problems that lead to so much destruction within our community.

We are all blowing away. In our struggle, we catch on others, and, if we are to be good and if we are to hold on, we try to help those who we may never want to know.

What do Democrats and hot chicks have in common?

They're both tired of getting hit on by old men.

At least, that's what we can infer from Democrat Paul Sadler's paltry showing in his US Senate race, according to an interview with the Texas Tribune:
"I don’t think we’ve seen a primary where there was basically no money given. And that’s basically where we are...There’s a lot of donor fatigue,” Sadler aid [sic]. "I think they’re just tired of getting hit on.” 
I can't say I'm shocked, but I appreciate Sadler's attempt at feigning surprise.

Now, there's nothing wrong with old politicians who run for office.

But here in Texas, they just don't run very well. And no one, especially not hot chicks, wants to vote for them.

Unfortunately, though, lately they seem to be the only guys at the bar.

The Texas Shame Act

The Texas sonogram law is having its fifteen minutes of fame in Doonesbury comic strips this week. Of course, this is causing proponents of the law a bit of anxiety as they never expected anyone but liberal, hairy-legged peace pipe players and baby killers to pay attention to the law or even hear about it.
I was asked to comment on the issue by KVUE's Mark Wiggins. It is ironic that newspapers are moving the strip to the opinion pages or offering a different series while women in Texas seeking an abortion have no alternative to undergoing this procedure.

Of course, there's always another view, as KVUE reports:
"I'm very sad that a Texas law is being made fun of in this manner, when all this is about is protecting the health of women," said Carol Everett, CEO of anti-abortion non-profit the Heidi Group. "...[W]e do not need to be putting it in the comic section, first of all, where families and children may see it, or even the editorial page. We need to give that woman the privacy that she deserves when she makes that decision, yet a fully-informed consent."

There's some flawed logic here. If all this law is about is simply "protecting the health of women," then what's the harm of it being brought up in the comic section where "families and children may see it"? If that's all this law is about, truly a plight to keep women safe, then why can't I read about it while I gulp down OJ and Cheerios? Comic strips like Zits prod at women's health and no one seems to get up in arms about that.

The difference is that the law is not about protecting women's health. It's not about giving a woman "the privacy that she deserves," as if the very basic right to privacy is something women still have to be deserving of, like a day at the spa or a pay raise. But this law isn't even about that. It's invasive, state-mandated shaming. So call it what it is: the Texas Shame Act.

Texas vs. Virginia: A Tale of Two Sonograms

There's only so much crowing a Texan can take before wondering why everyone was up in arms over Virginia debating a law that Texas had already set into place. And I wasn't alone. Former Texas Observer journalist Abbey Rapoport asked this morning over at The Prospect "Where Was the Outrage Over Texas's Sonogram Law." The Texas Tribune's Emily Ramshaw also remarked at the different reactions to the law, bolstered by a Saturday Night Live skit and Virginia's battleground status.
It got me wondering if everyone just slept through the last session, so I turned to the internet in an effort to rationalize some of this with data. Below is a chart showing Google search insight over the last year. You can see that the red line, searches for "Texas sonogram," peaks somewhat during the legislative session and again when the bill was being debated in court. But the search trends and interest in the Texas Transvaginal Corridor were nowhere near as drastic as they are for Virginia's.

I decided to narrow down my focus to Texas to see what our best and brightest were really interested in during the last few months. So I threw in some other search terms that I thought might be more reflective of the general interests of everyday Texans.
Well, that was a bad idea.

If this is starting to depress you, take heart: only one in three Texans have access to and use the internet, according to a 2010 Census report. But actually, that's not very comforting either because it very well may be one of the reasons there was a considerable lack of hoo-rah surrounding the Texas Republican majority poking around in women's hoo-hahs.

We're the third lowest state in the nation in the number of individuals using the internet, beating out only Mississippi and West Virginia. Whereas nearly seventy five percent of Virginians have access to and use the internet, which is right around the national average, we're about ten points behind. There's a definite virality behind our political process these days and if more than half of all concerned citizens are not able to be a part of the process, then it's no wonder word isn't making it outside of the violet echochamber of Austin.


A few words regarding the Obama contraception compromise

Obama offered a compromise yesterday that allows women who work for religious organizations to continue to receive access to contraception by requiring their health insurance providers to offer it for free. Of course that caused people to cry "Cop out!" and "Obama caved again!" all over the internet. I got a phone call from KVUE reporter Mark Wiggins asking if I'd go on camera to talk about the issue. The clip, and my thoughts on the matter, are below (transcript and video also here).

I'm not sure when "compromise" became a bad word in politics but we need to stop making it into one if we want to have any progress in our political system. If you value women's health and religious freedom, this is a win-win.